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Birdy News Bits for November 2016
by Keith Hackland (alamoinn@aol.com)
published November 2017

November is a big month in the Valley for birders because it offers really great birding, and that is why the 22 year old Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival is held in early November annually. The Festival attracts hundreds of birders to its field trips, talks, and trade show. It also brings over eighty of the country's top birding guides to the Valley to lead the popular field trips.

For local residents the trade show 'Birders Bazaar' and talks are a big draw. Over one hundred exhibitors draw thousands to the trade show where birding and outdoor gear, birding opportunities, art, photography, books, travel, and birding destinations from around the world are showcased. There is no entrance fee, but there should be, because it would be a bargain at $20 with all the great exhibits.

In the exhibit hall and a part of 'Birders Bazaar' Jonathan Wood will have his impressive collection of raptors on display, and as a falconer he puts some of the birds through their paces twice daily, flying them over the crowd as he speaks about their natural history. He is not only a licensed falconer, but he also rehabilitates raptors, and so those he has on show are rescue birds that cannot survive in the wild. Come see his birds.

Edited by Nancy Millar and Published by South Texas Nature, this where to bird in South Texas book is just out and is available free at participating chambers of commerce across the Valley and at the Alamo Outdoor Store (956-782-9912).

With site research by Mary Gustafson and featuring the photography of Clay Taylor, Steve Sinclair, and Raul Delgado, it provides information and maps of the best birding hot spots in twenty counties throughout the Valley and along the coast all across South Texas. Pick up a copy while they are available.

A Variegated Flycatcher showed up for the first recorded time in Texas at the Birding and Nature Center on South Padre. It was discovered on September 28, and stayed for some ten days. It is the seventh U.S. record for this tropical species. Birders flew in from around the U.S. to see it and it made the news in "The Monitor" and other newspapers. I was one of the lucky birders to see it, and as it turned out, one of the last three birders to see it before it departed for a new destination. Sunday evening two birders watched it with me at its usual locale in front of the Birding and Nature Center from 6:30 pm to 7:00 pm. It was active and catching lots of bugs, preparing for the next leg of its secret journey.

On the railing of the blue water tower close by a Peregrine Falcon hung out, but they generally chase down and eat ducks and larger birds than this small flycatcher, and they do not hunt at night. So I am sure the Variegated Flycatcher simply moved on down the flyway.

Currently there is a juvenile Crimson-collared Grosbeak hanging out at the Sheepshead Road wooded lots on South Padre Island. Guests who flew in from Georgia saw it this evening. This is a tropical bird that shows up quite often in the Valley. It enjoys wild fruits, such as the yellow berries on the Potato tree that grows in protected areas around the Valley.

A juvenile Northern Jacana, a wader, is being seen at Pintail Lake at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge south of Alamo. It is another tropical bird that shows up regularly in the Valley and is popular with visiting birders, and with its black, red and yellow markings it easily noticed.

What are vagrants?
Birds migrate and young birds explore, leading them sometimes into new territory, where birders call them vagrants, because they are rare or unusual visitors. The Valley is one of the top spots for vagrants in United States. When there are more birders out there more vagrants are discovered, meaning that there are doubtless more vagrants around than we know.

Every November the RGV Birding Festival brings over 80 of the county's top birding guides to the Valley to lead its tours, and consistently every year this is the time when many vagrants are discovered by the guides. So stay tuned for more unusual birds in November.